A family whose mute and autistic daughter was removed from the family home and placed in a secure unit for six months following serious allegations including rape have spoken out about the incident, which they say left their lives in ruin. Robin and Julia Burn from Pwll have said that they are concerned that others with the disability (autism) could be at risk of being taken away from their parents because authorities are using discredited communication techniques. They have given interviews to ITV (read here) Radio 5 Live (listen here) and they are calling for their case to be reopened and investigated by Dyfed-Powys Police.
During an interview on Radio 5 Live the solicitor who represented them, Kate Whittaker said that Carina had only been able to communicate on a very limited basis with her parents.
In 2010 at 19-years-old Carina was unexpectedly taken away from the family home and placed in a secure unit for 6 months because carers believed that she was trying to tell them that she had been abused. That was not the case and all three parties, the police, the psychiatrist and the County Council conceded that the allegations were made under a false premise. Carina returned home and was awarded £30,000 in compensation.
In the interview with Radio 5 Live Kate Whittaker said: “This is such an extreme horrific case where Carina and her family were let down by absolutely everybody that should have been helping them with such truly devastating consequences. I have experienced many cases where issues are fundamentally about the need for authorities and professionals to follow the very clear legal processes and safeguards we’ve got to protect people like Carina who cannot make decisions for themselves. That is at the heart of this case.”
The solicitor went on to say that the admissions they received were very extensive admissions but that steps had not been taken to investigate what has been admitted.
The solicitor questioned why the situation ever came to the point where Carina was removed when the allegations were made. She said that following the allegations local authority staff should have checked Carina’s records and highlighted the fact that their own assessments said that Carina couldn’t communicate at all, not even if she was in a lot of pain. The solicitor insisted that the local authority should have done assessments, which would have quickly established that there was a serious mismatch between the extremely limited communication that Carina had and the complex sentences and concepts she was said to have been using.
As it stands Mr and Mrs Burn have written to the police and Welsh Care Watchdog because they want those responsible to be disciplined.
When pressed as to whether any action would be taken against anyone the solicitor said “Look at what the carers claimed that Carina had said. They said she spelled out on her letter board in a swimming pool changing room ‘You don’t know what it is like to be abused by your dad’. They claimed she made these complex sentences that she used words like advocacy, capacity, patronising and inappropriately. What the parents want is for that to be looked at and ask the question how could anybody knowing having done assessments saying that Carina couldn’t possibly say any of that kind of thing.
In another interview with ITV the solicitor said: “The supposed messages created by facilitated communication didn’t come from Carina, never came from Carina, they came from the care workers who were facilitating her communication.”
Asked if there was a case to answer she said: “There is this major mismatch between the things that the council, the police and the psychiatrist report have admitted and these glaring facts that are documented of what the carers claimed that she said. All the decisions that were imposed on Carina for six months. It is not just the abuse allegations but the carers for six months were put in complete control of Carina’s communication.”
Expert witness Professor Howlin whose evidence was used to discredit the allegations has also spoken about the case on Radio 5 Live. Professor Patricia Howlin is Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, London. Her principal research interests focus on autism and developmental disorders. She said: “It is a difficult situation and a sad situation for Carina and her family. This type of occurrence has been reported on many occasions when facilitated communication has been used. When situations like this occur it is not just the content which are clearly serious. When the ideas and concepts are so out of keeping with the person’s general level of intellectual ability, that’s when very careful assessments have to be conducted.”